“I’ve learned more from idiots and nobodies than from professionals of this or that.”
–Henry Miller from his book, On Turning 80
I certainly don’t work with idiots or nobodies. The people who are successful at the top of corporations where I work are energetic, and highly motivated. But I find something very interesting about Millers quote.
The etymology of the word “idiot” says: “From Ancient Greek’s idites, a private citizen, one who has no professional knowledge, layman.”
If we put Miller’s quote together with the etymology, it suggests that we learn more from the non-professional non-expert than we will from the pro.
Now on the surface that’s ridiculous. Our experts and pros spend years and careers understanding aspects of our business world. There are times when I feel like I need every brain cell I can muster just to hang on to a casual conversation between two experts on a given topic.
But here’s the kicker: our world is changing, shifting, and evolving rapidly. The things that I was an “expert” in 20 years ago in the computer industry are essentially worthless and meaningless today. Now, that’s not to say that our experts and pros don’t grow and develop and evolve as well. They do. But by becoming experts we’ve seen it all; We know what to expect; We know how things work. And therein lies the problem.
We may need Innovation more than Experts
When we need innovation or change or we’re facing a disruptive event in our industry, we often have to take new perspectives or think about our business in totally new ways. Experts become victims of their own knowledge. When our brain has an expectation of what we’re going to see, we miss all kinds of interesting things going on around us.
There’s a wonderful experiment where the participants are asked to view a video of two teams in a gym bouncing and passing a basketball. The participants are given the assignment of counting how many passes are made by one of the teams. While watching the video and accomplishing their task, the majority of participants miss the fact (completely don’t see it) that a man in a gorilla suit walks right through the middle of gym. They were too focused to see the bigger picture.
To see things differently and gain new perspective, bring in some idiots (not professional knowledge) and nobodies and listen to them. They’ll see the gorilla in the room when the pros won’t.